11:25 – Very good speech, as we expect from Pence. He’s set up Trump for tomorrow, and mainly approached the policy tension by emphasizing the commonalities of conservatism and populism. One notable omission: any emphasis on fiscal discipline, which used to be Pence’s strong suit.
11:24 – Winds up on a roll that ends with “With God’s help we will — to borrow a phrase — make America great again.”
11:23 – Calls on leaders to “humble themselves before God and pray,” promising that the Lord will heal this land.
11:20 – Pays homage to the late Billy Graham, offers a personal anecdote about Graham’s sermon three days after 9/11. “The spirit of this nation will not be defeated,” Pence quoted Graham, but also reminds us that Graham urged Americans to turn back to God.
11:16 – Reminds audience that the midterms will likely be tough; crowd getting quieter.
11:13 – Pence is having more fun with Nancy Pelosi’s “crumbs” comments. “I’m from the Joseph A. Banks wing of the White House,” Pence jokes. “We had a word for an extra thouand dollars in our pockets at the end of the year — Christmas.”
11:08 – Pence offers perfectly honed derision for Kim Yo Jong and Kim Jong-un, as well as the media that fell all over itself in fawning over both of them at the Olympics. “America does not stand with murderous dictators,” Pence declares, “America stands up to murderous dictators.” That might be the best line of the speech thus far.
11:05 – Perhaps it has been taken for granted, but Pence once again demonstrates his mastery of the dais. Pence is a consummate orator. He knows his craft, has honed it well, and he never fails to get his intended response. Pence knows how to adjust pace, tone, facial expression, and volume for maximum impact. CPAC may not see a better speaker this year.
11:02 – Declares 2017 “a year of promises made and promises kept,” to massive applause. To be fair, the ObamaCare flop wasn’t the fault of the White House, but it’s very difficult to credit this statement as it applies more broadly to the GOP.
11:01 – Pence says he and Trump stand with the conservative movement … “and come to think of it, we stand for the national anthem too!” More chants of “USA! USA!”
11:00 – Pence declares that 2017 was “the most consequential year in the history of the conservative moment.” The year in which a Republican-controlled Washington failed to repeal ObamaCare?
10:59 – Pence says he’s praying for “American solutions” to mass shootings that “will end this evil in our time.”
10:57 – Begins with the Parkland mass shooting, talking about the meetings he and Trump have held with the victims’ families.
10:56 – Chants of “USA!” greet Pence, who starts off by asking for another round of applause for his wife, and then hailing CPAC as the “largest gathering of conservatives in America every single year.”
10:53 – Mrs. Pence tells the crowd that Mike is a cartoonist. Does Jake Tapper know about this?
10:51 – Cute moment from Mrs. Pence, who said they used to call her husband “Rush Limbaugh on decaf.”
10:47 – CPAC chief Matt Schlapp is now on stage to introduce Pence. Schlapp talks about Pence’s “stellar conservative record,” touting his 98% lifetime rating at the ACU. That’s a not-so-subtle emphasis, I think, on the tensions between the conservatives and the populists.
Update: If you want to catch my reaction after Pence’s speech, I’ll be on EWTN with Lauren Ashburn to discuss it.
Original blog post follows …
Call it Triumphant Entry Take Two. Once again, both Donald Trump and Mike Pence will return to CPAC to celebrate one year of governance, and to castigate the media. That seems to be a major theme of CPAC the morning after CNN’s public beating of conservatives in last night’s “town hall” on gun control. In fact, NRA News’ Dana Loesch delivered a fiery response to last night’s event shortly before Pence took the stage, telling a standing-ovation crowd that mass shootings are the result of law-enforcement failures, not lawful gun owners, and rebuked the media for its exploitation of tragedies for their own political agendas. The mood here has been defiant and angry, and when Trump takes the stage tomorrow, you can bet he’ll embrace that anger at media bias.
What about today’s visit by the Vice President, which starts at 10:35 ET today? He’ll no doubt discuss the media coverage of the administration, which is after all very low-hanging fruit. It will be interesting, though, to see if Pence attempts to speak to the status of traditional conservatism in a populist, Trump-oriented GOP. If anyone can address the tension between populists and doctrinaire conservatives — or even acknowledge that it exists — it’s Pence. As a member of the House and as governor of Indiana, Pence has sterling conservative credentials, but he’s also been a convincing envoy for Trump’s more populist agenda. As I wrote at The Week yesterday, the agenda seems to have few outlets for this tension to surface at CPAC, but Pence has an opportunity to pre-empt it:
During their previous time in single-party governance in the George W. Bush years, Republicans supposedly learned a hard lesson about big spending increases and entitlement expansions. After losing control of Congress in the 2006 midterms, the GOP insisted it would impose fiscal discipline on the federal government. After taking control of the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014 midterms, Republicans fought a series of pitched battles to rein in the Obama administration’s spending. The two parties finally settled on budget caps, also called “sequesters,” a flawed but effective way to rein in spending growth.
With control of the White House, Republicans had the opportunity to finally deliver on decades of promises for fiscal discipline. Instead, Trump backed a deal that blew a $300 billion hole in the caps for the next two years, more than four times the compromise reached in 2013 with Obama as president. The new budget caps do allow for more military spending, which is a conservative priority, but by throwing money at Democrats everywhere else. The deal, combined with the tax reform bill, threatens to bring back trillion-dollar annual deficits, this time fully under the Republican Party label.
The tax reform bill might also be a point of contention. While it represents the biggest tax cut in decades and has already had a salutary effect on Republican prospects in the midterms, many conservatives will have trouble seeing it as a reform, as opposed to merely rate reductions that could get reversed by later Congresses and presidents. For the last several CPACs, the debate over tax reform was aimed at full-blown overhauls of the system. Some conservatives backed a flat tax, in which everyone pays the same rate on all income without any deductions, while other activists backed the “fair tax” — a consumption tax combined with a repeal of the 16th Amendment to eliminate the income tax altogether. The conservative ambition to eliminate the IRS and end rent-seeking behaviors in the tax code has been altogether abandoned.
These debates might complicate any celebratory efforts at CPAC. The speaker list leans significantly more populist than traditional conservatism. Fiscal and tax policies seem to have been downplayed on the agenda in favor of other issues, although one panel on Friday afternoon describes itself as a conservative report card on the Trump administration. Otherwise, it appears that the conversations will be dominated by White House officials and the populists who have succeeded in dominating the conversation on the right.
Best guess: This tension will mostly go unremarked. A few speakers might bring it up — Ben Shapiro, for instance, has a main-stage appearance that might be worth noting — but it won’t become a major topic. Too many people want to focus on the wins. If we end up having a bad midterm cycle in November, though, expect it to come back with a vengeance in 2019.
Updates will go to the top in reverse chronological order, as usual. Follow along on C-SPAN or on CPAC’s live Facebook video below, although you may want to pop this out into another tab if you’re following along with the updates.